The Iranian Highlands:

Resiliences and Integration in Pre-modern Societies

A cooperation among the DFG, RICHT/ICAR and MCTH
Funded in the framework of the DFG-SPP 2176

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Parthian Imperial Control and Local Agency in the Central Zagros Highlands

Applicant: Dr. Michael Brown, Ph.D.
Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg
Zentrum für Altertumswissenschaften
Institut für Ur- und Frühgeschichte und Vorderasiatische Archäologie
Subject Area: Egyptology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies
Term: since 2019
Project identifier: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) - Projekt number 423891597

Project Description

This project will explore settlement and society in the central Zagros highlands of Kurdistan during the Parthian period (c. 148 BC – AD 226). Our knowledge of Parthian archaeology and history remains markedly incomplete, despite its evident significance as the longest lasting dominion in the Ancient Near East. The proposed research will provide the first detailed account of settlement within this mountainous region, which has always played an important role in structuring east-west interactions.The main component of the project will be an archaeological survey in the highlands of Iranian-Kurdistan, involving a combination of remote sensing, field survey and artefact analysis. Particular attention will be paid to the relationship between settled agricultural communities and semi-nomadic pastoralists. Analysis of ancient texts alongside archaeological and environmental data will help situate highland settlement within its wider geographical and historical contexts. Furthermore, survey in western Iran will be complemented by fieldwork at Rabana-Merquly, a large Parthian era fortress c. 25 km across the border in Iraqi-Kurdistan. These 2000-year-old ruins are remarkably preserved with many buildings visible on the surface. Extensive augmentation of natural terrain involved in the construction of these fortifications represents an anthropogenic extension of Mt. Piramagrun, which enhanced the defensive function of the western Zagros in protecting the Persian interior from invasion. It is hypothesised that regulation of passage through the mountains, by the fortress at Rabana-Merquly, will be reflected in contemporary patterns of settlement within the adjoining Iranian survey area. The influence of these overland routes upon highland populations will, in turn, provide an indication as to their connectivity, or otherwise, in relation to the wider Parthian Empire.Through complementary fieldwork on both sides of the Iran-Iraq border, this project is uniquely placed to address a disjuncture in scholarship, which currently hinders holistic reconstruction of ancient settlement landscapes across the Zagros Mountains. The overall objective is to comprehensively explore a highland domain of the Parthian Empire at the intersection of strategic communications between Mesopotamia and Persia. While the primary focus of the project will be on the Parthian period, survey data collected in Iran will provide information on longue durée settlement trends, thereby creating opportunities for further research.